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CherryPal's $99 "Odd Lots" Netbook 234

Posted by timothy
from the cool-approach dept.
Robotech_Master writes "CherryPal, which Slashdot last covered back in 2008, has released a $99 netbook, the Africa, aimed at the developing world but (unlike the OLPC) available for sale to the consumer. But unlike most netbooks, the Africa is not actually made to a set design. Instead, it uses a hacker-like approach similar to the way home PC builders build their cheap beige boxes. CherryPal purchases odd lots of whatever components are available most inexpensively, builds netbooks out of them, and calls them Africas. The resulting machines will at least meet and may exceed the minimum specs given on CherryPal's website, and may be built around an ARM, MIPS, or X86-based CPU depending on what parts CherryPal has on hand at the time. The device ships with 'at least' Windows CE or CherryPal's custom 'Green Maraschino' Debian-based Linux distro."
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CherryPal's $99 "Odd Lots" Netbook

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  • by jyoull (512280) <.ude.tim.aidem. .ta. .mij.> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:48AM (#30523550)

    they're using the "Dell Method"

    • Re:In other words (Score:5, Interesting)

      by chill (34294) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:26AM (#30523978) Journal

      Dell has NOTHING on Packard Bell. I'm not sure what happened to them, but their equipment was shit and totally random. There are a few differences with CherryPal, though.

      Since CP has their own Debian distro, people won't have to wonder if their are Linux drivers for the hardware found in the system. If it ships, it works and has drivers. Packard Bell was a challenge. "Oh. They shipped one of THOSE parts this time!"

      PB wasn't guaranteeing minimum specs, they were saying exact specs on CPU, RAM and HD. CP's "at least this" is an interesting idea.

      • Re:In other words (Score:4, Insightful)

        by RMH101 (636144) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:31AM (#30524022)
        it's because they're *cheap* - if you want guaranteed hardware for 3 years, you buy corporate desktops and laptops: case in point - Dell have the inspiron and lattitude range of laptops. Pretty much the same thing inside usually - but the latt's are slightly better at taking abuse, fit docking stations, and *guarantee hardware for a set period*. All big vendors do this: IBM, Fujitsu, etc.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by chill (34294)

          Yeah, I know. With two major exceptions, I've had fairly good luck with Dell desktops, laptops and servers.

          The first they fixed, after lots and lots of threats to pull my business. It only worked because I had a $20,000+ order pending that they made good on swapping out a defective system. I wasn't interested in yet another repair.

          The second is a laptop with the same issue (nVidia graphics chipset that had substrate issues and fried itself) that I just gave up on and purchased a replacement motherboard v

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Thank you for your anecdotal evidence, it's completely useless.
      • PB is still around in Europe. Last year they were acquired by Acer as a ride-along from the Acer buyout of Gateway.

        And yeah, their machines were the pinnacle of shittiness.

      • by jyoull (512280)

        Wow. I had forgotten all about Packard Bell. OMG. The pain. The paaaaaaaaiiiiinnnnnnnnn.

      • Re:In other words (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:47AM (#30524252)

        As a former Packard Bell owner, I must agree. My Packard Bell (originally a 486 SX 20Mhz with 2MB of RAM and an 80MB hard drive) was the most non-standard thing I'd ever seen.

        Motherboard form factor? Completely made up by them. It had 2 PS/2 ports in the back, a serial port, and a parallel port. It had 4 ISA slots but they were on a riser card. Not reusing this case for anything else.

        Power supply? It was reminiscent of the standard AT power supply in that it was hard on/off, but that too was custom. Instead of cables attached to a switch which completed the circuit (or a switch actually on the box), this thing had a giant plastic arm that ran the length of the case from front to back and into the power supply to toggle on and off.

        The memory expansion slots? It had 4 empty ones - the base 2MB of memory was soldered straight onto the board. To upgrade the thing you had to fill all 4 slots - all or nothing.

        Processor upgrade? They made it an option in the stupidest way. The CPU was soldered straight into the board much like the memory was. If you wanted to upgrade the processor, they provided a SECOND CPU socket that shipped empty. You want to upgrade you had to plug a new CPU into the replacement socket and then use a jumper to tell the board to use that socket instead of the built in CPU.

        I did eventually do some upgrades on it. The 80MB hard drive got moved to 800MB. I bumped the RAM from 2MB to 6MB. Put in a sound card and CD-ROM drive. I also eventually got an Intel Overdrive chip for that extra socket and moved from the 486 SX 20Mhz to a 486 DX 75Mhz (strange that a 55Mhz increase in clock speed made such a difference - back then the machine was several times faster - these days 55Mhz isn't even noticeable :)).

        Still, upgrading that system always was a hassle to find things that worked. Aside from laptops, that was the last mass produced system I ever owned. I just like having the freedom to mix and match parts as I see fit.

        • by red_dragon (1761)

          Processor upgrade? They made it an option in the stupidest way. The CPU was soldered straight into the board much like the memory was. If you wanted to upgrade the processor, they provided a SECOND CPU socket that shipped empty. You want to upgrade you had to plug a new CPU into the replacement socket and then use a jumper to tell the board to use that socket instead of the built in CPU.

          Packard Bell was not alone in that, though. A friend on mine had an IBM PS/ValuePoint 486SX PC with the same arrangement

          • by asdf7890 (1518587)

            It was similar with 487 maths co-processors and their sockets.

            The 486DX has a built-in co-pro, but the 486SX lines "didn't". Well they did, but it was disabled.

            Boards would have 486SX (soldered on usually, but not always) and a co-pro sockets which was actually just a normal 486 socket. When you bought a 487 math co-pro unit it was actually a full 486DX - it didn't just take on the extra job like the 387 and 287 chips did, it actually took over from the 486SX chip completely. Overdrive sockets and chips wer

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Schnapple (262314)

              The 486DX has a built-in co-pro, but the 486SX lines "didn't". Well they did, but it was disabled.

              Boards would have 486SX (soldered on usually, but not always) and a co-pro sockets which was actually just a normal 486 socket. When you bought a 487 math co-pro unit it was actually a full 486DX - it didn't just take on the extra job like the 387 and 287 chips did, it actually took over from the 486SX chip completely. Overdrive sockets and chips were the same thing: just a standard socket and 486DX with a di

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by oakgrove (845019)

          I also eventually got an Intel Overdrive chip for that extra socket and moved from the 486 SX 20Mhz to a 486 DX 75Mhz (strange that a 55Mhz increase in clock speed made such a difference - back then the machine was several times faster - these days 55Mhz isn't even noticeable :)).

          Yes, that would have made a huge difference. Something like going from a 1.2 GHz Core2Duo to a 3.6 GHz Core2Duo (this is a simplified example for all of you pedants out there). You have to think of the new clock speed as relative to the old (assuming similar processor family), so going from 20 MHz to 75 would have definitely been over 3 times faster not to mention the addition of faster bus speed and a functional math co-processor.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by MBGMorden (803437)

            Thanks for the explanation, but I already knew that ;).

            I was merely commenting on the fact that it was only a 55Mhz jump that did that. Kinda like old folks reminiscing about how sodas used to cost only a nickel :).

        • The memory expansion slots? It had 4 empty ones [snip] To upgrade the thing you had to fill all 4 slots - all or nothing.

          That's the way all memory was at the time: 30 pin SIMMs in banks of four.
        • by Pathwalker (103)

          I have to admit; I liked the ISA riser card in my ancient crappy Packard Bell 386sx.

          When you wanted to swap cards, you just undid one screw, and the whole assembly (riser card, and the surrounding frame that the cards screwed into) came out. You had unobstructed access to all of the cards, and just plugged the riser card back in once you were done.

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        aw yeah, baby, I had gig in place standardized on 8088 Packard Bell, 10mb disk, 512k ram with Hercules graphics cards (with CGA emulator, run full color apps, in the color amber which was standard monitor's)

        graphics card *had* to be plugged into slot furthest from the processor or thing would go apeshit at random times. bios would run software it liked. and if bios was cranky would overwrite portions of hard disk

  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:50AM (#30523588) Homepage Journal

    I first heard about these via the white African [whiteafrican.com] (a tech guy in Nairobi). There is some interesting discussion there that revolved around capabilities, how realistic the $99 price point is outside the developed world and durability.
     
    Getting these in the U.S. at $99 is pretty easy, but could one get them into an African country at that price? Max Seybold says yes, but I'd like to see it first. Then the question is how well it will sell, even at that price point when up against used hardware with better specs.
     
    I'm all for more choices at the lower end of things. And I think this product is great even if for nothing more than the conversations it can generate that will bring more awareness about the needs in developing countries. But ultimately I wonder if this kind of thing is just a stop gap anyway until cheap smart phones and reliable data access are global.

    • by rpbird (304450)

      Outside the core cities, poverty is so intense in rural areas, I don't see this device getting to the people who could actually benefit from it.

      • I think that it's difficult to discuss Africa as a whole sometimes, and there are a lot of places that are like you describe. Niger would be a good example. At the same time, a lot of Africa is not that bad off, and enabling people with technology is a big part of making it even better.

        I think the largest advances in this regard have come via mobile, but I think devices like this may provide for some needs in niches that are not really being served right now.

        The economic impact of cell phones alone has be

    • I'm not buying that this is a 'product' at all. They don't even guarantee what CPU architecture you will get. This isn't a frugal hardware company buying "odd lots" of components, this is a company taking $99 from people, then buying job lots of whatever cheap ready-built laptops they can get wholesale, kitting them out with an OS then shipping them. There's no way they're tooled out to build laptops with ARM, Intel, AMD, etc., different size screens (do they redesign the case each time??). It's a nice
  • seems a bit pricey (Score:5, Insightful)

    by castironpigeon (1056188) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:51AM (#30523592)
    Considering you can get legit hardware in a netbook now for around $200, getting what is essentially a bag o' crap for half that isn't much of deal.
    • by Yvan256 (722131) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:54AM (#30523620) Homepage Journal

      Even worst, a bag o' random crap.

    • by spike2131 (468840) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:18AM (#30523892) Homepage

      Depends on how easy the crap is to swap out of the bag.

      $200 and no ability to fix things is way worse than $99 and an easy way to replace what breaks. Especially in Africa, where everything breaks, and jury-rigged fixes are the norm.

      • by RMH101 (636144)
        well, if you get consistent hardware at least you can cannibalise one machine that's died to fix a few others that have gone faulty. If you get random crap then you can't do this. $200 and standard hardware that you can swap out is probably better than $99 and you can't fix it.
      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        It seems CherryPal's netbook kind of goes against that jury-rigging fact. If there's dozens of types of parts, you probably won't be able to make one working laptop from a few non-working ones. Unless CherryPal planned for that, of course.

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        "Everything breaks" in Africa not so much due to an inherent quality possessed by the continent, but by its people. It's difficult to 'have something nice' when doing so makes you a target for theft and murder pretty much anywhere on the continent.

        Connectivity goes down because the power and communication lines are stolen for their value in raw materials.

        Power goes down because transformers are stolen for their resale value. Or maybe some militant/rebel/whatever shot it for fun. The power then does not come

        • by couchslug (175151)

          "Painting the residents of Africa as victims is foolish. It shows the people of Africa disrespect - as if they are unable to shape their own destiny."

          Painting them as victims is delectable because it feeds the Cult of Universal White Guilt, and is also handy when shilling for "non-profit" charities (who still pay the staff...and leadership).

          The people of Africa showed what they think of modern day colonials during the incident in Mogadishu made famous by the movie "Blackhawk Down". Leave Africa alone, buy w

    • Considering you can get legit hardware in a netbook now for around $200, getting what is essentially a bag o' crap for half that isn't much of deal.

      It's half the price. I think that's a big deal, if the $100 hardware will service your needs.

      Some people don't consider a $500 Apple Mac Mini a big deal. But sometimes, I buy one second hand for $250. Why? Because it's half the price.

      You can also think of it some other way. Put the savings in your pension. You'll be glad when you're 80 and you can afford a beautiful blonde Swedish girl to wipe your ass.

      • And if all I want to do is surf the web, check e-mail, read e-books, and write, hell, a 2-pound Africa will be a hell of a lot better than the 8 pound Toshiba Satellite laptop I currently have. And at $100, it will be cheaper than even the cheapest iPod Touch. It's not like I'm going to be rendering Avatar on it or something.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:54AM (#30523616) Homepage Journal

    I wonder, if I'm willing to wait or pay extra, can I specify parts, like "any x86" or "anything but x86"?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Cherry-pick your Cherry-pal? Genius!

    • Quantity 1? Probably not.

      Quantity 100+ I suspect they'd be more than happy to talk.
  • I can't wait to see this avaialble in the UK just to see how much it will cost. I bet about £120 about $190.
  • cool (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Real (179104) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:57AM (#30523652)

    That's not bad for an open device that will run hostap. At that price, these are essentially disposable. 1800mah is fully powerable by a 28 watt solar charger. You could build motion capture field cameras or something out of them. I love it when tech gets cheap.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      That's not bad for an open device that will run hostap.

      Most NICs won't work in Master mode, only a couple of spendy intel NICs using ndiswrapper and a handful of the Atheros ones are really known to do it faithfully. That eliminates a lot of the value right there, if you don't know what you'll be getting. And no, USB to WiFi is not acceptable, especially with so little processor. On the other hand, they're still hitting a price point that nobody else seems to be covering yet, in spite of numerous promises to do so at various trade shows.

  • That's an interesting laptop. Looks like a rip-off of the polycarbonate MacBook, sounds like a rip-off of the Microsoft search engine. I predict FAIL.
  • Specs (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:15AM (#30523854)

    they are:
    a 400 MHz processor
    256 MB RAM,
    2 GB flash memory,
    Ethernet,
    Wi-Fi,
    2xUSB
    a 7 screen

    (from here [whiteafrican.com]) as the links are down

    • That's the minimum specs. They get whatever they can above that; looks like currently, they're offering a 1.6GHz CPU (Atom, probably), 10.2' screen and 160GB HDD.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        They were when they started shipping them, according to Max's blog post.. They could be offering anything at this point. The only thing they guarantee is that you'll get at least those minimum specs. They don't guarantee that you'll get anything better, but they say you probably will.

        My gut feeling is that you'll almost always come out ahead of the minimum specs on at least one or two facets (like, you might get a better processor if nothing else, or more disk space if nothing else) just because given how p

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Yes, now the question is: is it x86 or ARM? Or something else?

      $100 for an ARM or PPC machine with those specs isn't bad. It's not great, but it's not bad, either.

      However, those specs on an x86 machine are astoundingly poor, and not worth the money. An x86 CPU of 400MHz won't perform nearly as wellas an ARM or PPC, for starters. Also, that's the "minimum" spec. What if I want a 7" or 9" screen, but they're shipping old POS Dells from '2001 with 14" screens?

      Are they buying used crap off ebay for $20 and resel

  • may be built around an ARM, MIPS, or X86-based CPU depending on what parts CherryPal has on hand at the time

    I believe this also goes for their webserver, which is now in its last death throes.

  • Niche Market (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:22AM (#30523934)

    If you:

    1. Have a 2 year-old who's obsessed with daddy's laptop who really needs his own so he'll stop bugging you
    2. AND you don't want to have to hunt on ebay for an OLPC child-proof laptop that costs the same as it did when it was purchased two years ago
    3. AND you don't want to pay over $100 for something that will get destroyed in the first 6 months of usage

    Then it's not a bad deal.

    • by MBGMorden (803437)

      1. Have a 2 year-old who's obsessed with daddy's laptop who really needs his own so he'll stop bugging you

      My 18 month old niece has this fascination and I found a far cheaper solution - she plays (supervised - usually I'm sitting with her) with my old broken laptop. It was in the junk drawer anyways (all the salvageable parts were recycled) and she just seems more interested in banging on the keys than seeing anything on screen, so it's all good.

      Even at $99 I still don't think I'd turn her loose on a working laptop :).

  • ARM/MIPS or X86? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RMH101 (636144) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:27AM (#30523982)
    Oh come on. For heaven's sake at least standardise on an architecture. I've no problem with some hardware variance (although god help you if you want to image the things) but completely different architectures? It's like feeding Africa by posting out half-eaten leftovers rather than aid parcels.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'd be more concerned about the prospect of getting a mix of linux and WinCE, myself.

      Obviously, none of your standard corporate IT minion strategies are going to work with this stuff; but I'd take a mix of architectures, all running linux, over a bunch of machines of a single architecture, running a mix of linux and WinCE.

      Once you get beyond the bootloader, debian/X86 feels almost the same as debian/ARM. WinCE feels like neither linux nor real windows.
      • Re:ARM/MIPS or X86? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Robotech_Master (14247) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:57AM (#30524372) Homepage Journal

        You specify which OS you want at time of order, in the "order instructions" box. If you say "give me all Linux, please" they'll do it for you.

        Windows might be more of a standardization issue. From reading between the lines in their blog post (where Max said you'd get "at least" Windows CE, but not Vista or 7), I got the feeling that you might get either Windows CE or Windows XP, depending on which OS the processor they had available that day would support.

      • by sowth (748135) *

        I'd be concerned that the "linux" they ship with would be really crappy (like Xandros on the EEE), and their hardware wouldn't be compatible with any regular distro with decent developer tools and such.

    • Personally, I think it's kind of neat that they can make cheap machines out of literally whatever they can get their hands on. It's kind of like something Cory Doctorow would write.

    • Actually, that happens a fair amount in the 1st world food industry where they use whatever commodity ingredient is cheapest at the time. That's why you see ingrediant labels stating "may contain one or more of the following: soybean oil, sunflower oil, lard, peanut oil" etc.

      • by RMH101 (636144)
        ....and I wouldn't have a problem if some shipped with RAM made by Hynix, some by Micron - it's functionally the same. If it said "may contain one of more of the following: soybean oil, sunflower oil or boiled stoat" then I'd have an issue. Get my drift?
    • by glop (181086)

      That's a bit extreme I agree, but at the same time, it's pretty manageable with Debian:
      - install software the same way : check (apt-get install)
      - browse web : check (firefox, html and javascript and no freaking ActiveX to require a specific arch)
      - write you own architecture independent programs : check (shell scripts, python, perl, javascript)
      - word processing/spreadsheet: check (gnumeric and abiword for instance)

      I have done real work on much slower hardware and I don't think

      • by sowth (748135) *

        It would also be great for children. There are plenty of kids who don't have a computer at all because they are too expensive. I only got one as a kid because the Atari 130XEs were only $125 at the time. With advances in chips, I don't understand why we can't make them cheaper.

        I'm sure it would be possible to make a really low powered $20 computer with a microcontroller and other common chips. Before I had the strokes and kidney failure, it was my dream to design, manufacture and sell cheap computers. At

    • They're just a clearing house for unwanted older laptop stock. They even say in on their page: "...we buy access inventory, overcapacity, out-of-fashion shells, shells with minor cosmetic flaws, discounted limited batches, and other high quality though discounted components and systems...". It's a nice product concept, but you could do the same with a few days' careful browsing on eBay.
  • by tyroneking (258793) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:46AM (#30524228)

    It's what the OLPC should have been.
    Commodity hardware, whatever's cheapest.
    And a Linux-based OS to boot (no pun intended).
    For f***s sake - how easy they do it - and OLPC had to make things so freaking difficult.
    Obama - please give your spare bank-bailout cash to these guys and get less developed nations on-line before we all go to hell...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "It's what the OLPC should have been.
      Commodity hardware, whatever's cheapest.
      And a Linux-based OS"

      OLPC is that and more: sunlight readable screen, robust, wireless mesh networking, even more energy efficient than this "Africa" device.

      • OLPC is that and more: sunlight readable screen, robust, wireless mesh networking, even more energy efficient than this "Africa" device.

        It's all good, but even taken together, it doesn't beat the $100 price tag. That is important; everything else is just icing on the cake.

    • Yeah, let the OLPC be a different breed. Finally someone is doing what I carped on in a couple of Dot posts.

      (Begin slightly excessive theatrics)
      "Windows 7 (and Vista worse before that), Outlook 2010, and some new breeds of Linux require crispy shiny hardware.
      Oh Noes! Who will Think Of The OldWare??"
      (/End slightly excessive theatrics)

      So even ignoring Vista like we all did, MS is right that Win7/Vista SP3 is in fact positioned perfectly for the upgrade cycle from XP era 2001-2010.

      That means there will be a pe

  • by joeflies (529536) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @12:04PM (#30524452)

    It doesn't matter that everyone will get at least the minimum configuration. What will happen is that people will find out what the other guy got (posting their configs on the net), and then anyone who didn't get as good of a configuration will return it and get another until they get one with similar spec as the best one out.

  • How do i get one (Score:2, Interesting)

    I can't find out how to get one of these, but I have made a habit of buying one of each major computer posted on slashdot. How do i get one of these?
    • Wait for the Slashdotting to die down and their webserver to come back up. Then place your order via the store on their website. They take credit cards or Western Union. Be sure and specify in the "order instructions" textbox whether you want Windows or Linux.

  • by AusIV (950840) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @12:42PM (#30524994)

    I always thought the reason it was cheaper to build a system from parts than buy a pre-built box was just a matter of scale. It's not hard to find a handful of parts that are on sale because they're beginning to be antiquated and retailers are trying to get rid of them, but I always assumed the price I paid for the parts was still above the normal wholesale price.

    I can imagine that in bulk and with the right connections, you might be able to get these parts a bit below the normal wholesale price. The thing I have trouble with, is the idea that you can get enough of a discount to offset the cost of supporting random hardware configurations and software for several different CPU architectures.

    Is this really cost effective?

    • by yurtinus (1590157)
      The thing is, they are getting these odd lots of parts for well below wholesale price. I imagine these are probably some other vendor overstock or outdated hardware that some other manufacturer has already written off a loss on. *That* manufacturer doesn't have the infrastructure in place to repackage these into something marketable (at least something that's up to par with its current products), so they can recoup *some* cost by selling off the old stuff.

      As for random hardware configurations, it is extr
    • by Shotgun (30919)

      The thing I have trouble with, is the idea that you can get enough of a discount to offset the cost of supporting random hardware configurations and software for several different CPU architectures.

      Is this really cost effective?

      Support? What is this support you speak of in relation to hardware? The closest I've seen to hardware support in the last 10 years is "Ship the unit back to us, and we'll ship you a new one."

  • We've been over this before, and it's starting to get irritating. I really, really, really want to want one of these, but when netbooks are available refurbished with 1G of RAM and 16G SSD for $250...

    We've been hearing about the sub-$100 netbook/computer now for about 2 years, it seems. Invariably it's an ARM processor based device, and it's going to revolutionize computing. Some promises sounded nice. Mostly, the products are vaporware or just crap.

    Basically, this device has the specifications of a handhel

  • Does calling a "half-assed managery of parts" computer an Africa seem terribly racist to you? It does to me.

    I'd like one.

  • Finally just not vaporware? :)

    Going to get one.

    I wish i could get even cheaper ones without screen, keyb, battery, wifi etc. just PS/2, USB, VGA and Ethernet connections? ;)

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